I’m up in the woods on the edge of town as darkness falls. It’s early but my feet are frozen. This is by far the scariest, hairiest assignment I’ve had yet in many moons at this paper. And it’s not the first time.
I’m peering through a gnarled leafless forest towards a large garage-like structure with numerous skylights from which early seventies soft rock booms, trying to get the story on just how Santa’s set to arrive in to the center of the hamlet come December 24. Last time I tried this and got a few details, I also got threatened by an aging concert designer with a soul patch, who sliced a finger across his throat while smiling at me, a mean twinkle in his eye. I decided it best not to share what I learned. Another time I was doing an innocent feature profile and happened to ask what was under a certain tarp. End of story.
There are the tales — probably apocryphal but possibly not — that still pass around about Woodstock Times reporters from the paper’s earliest decades, as well as scribblers from earlier townie publications, who’d been captured and detained because of their Santa Arrival Knowledge. Tied to trees and fed the bare minimum for survival until the big arrival had passed. Then left too embarrassed (or straight-out frightened) to ever confirm or deny what happened.
“My lips are sealed,” said Lynn Sehwerert of the town clerk’s office, who’s been deeply involved in the big night’s organizing for years now, when asked point blank what would be happening in town this Christmas Eve. “My husband doesn’t even know.”
She cheerily spoke about the 40 or so people who volunteer time to fundraise for the event each year, whose costs run over $10,000. They make sure Trailways is cool with what’s happening, work out a dimming of the lights around the Village Green with Central Hudson. Make sure the state DOT’s chill with the closing of a major highway. Line up fire departments and police, rescue squads as well as all the presents bags and stockings that need stuffing, the meals that get delivered.
We took notes, as always, and dug for hints. Would any wires be needing temporary moving this year? Had the FAA been contacted? Any really big vehicles coming into town? How about special helicopter landings? Had Michael Lang somehow contracted the entire event to be a preview of a 50th anniversary concert next summer, or would it be moved down to the Sullivan County township of Bethel?
Sehwerert laughed, then grew serious.
“You don’t know how many phone calls we get these days from indignant persons, many new residents of the area, asking why we can’t change the date of the event,” she noted. “We get thousands for the event, though it always depends on the weather.”
This year, Sehwerert added, all prognostication was for a clear night, sans precipitation, expected to be around 30 degrees Fahrenheit.
I ask about the details for people arriving. Is 4:15 p.m. still a good time to begin enjoying the carolers, with enough time to get settled before the streets close down at 5 p.m. following the Trailways’ bus’ arrival?
There’ll be a parade, as usual, with plenty of fun floats. The town’s rock and roll spirit will be loudly heard. Expect some dancers. Also, as usual, Santa will set up on the Village Green following the parade, where a load of grown-up local elves will hand out the hundreds of stockings full of goodies. Somewhere, someone will be making last-minute amendments to the 2018 naughty/nice list (though not entire agencies of checkers as have reportedly been sent down to Palm Beach for certain festivities there.)
By 7 p.m. Santa will be off for his full night of working travels…and the Dutch Reformed Church will host its Christmas Mass. Which is also when volunteers head out to deliver cheer baskets with a Christmas card, candy, fruit and chocolates for all those who are ill or homebound so no one feels left out of the holiday spirit.
Through the woods I hear the music get louder; garage doors open and a bunch of burly guys step out holding their ample tummies as they laugh aloud. I think I glimpse a pyramid behind them, maybe a Sphinx. Is that the ghost of Jerry Garcia writ large? Or just one of the members of the Band, memorialized as though he’d grown gargantuan and old.
I sneeze and the men all freeze like deer in headlights. One points my direction, another runs inside. I don’t wait to see what he might be getting there as the doors slam shut and I take off through the forest, my car, and yet another “don’t really know” denouement to the annual Santa’s Arrival story.
After all, I have a family to look after too, now.
See you on the Green Monday night by 5 p.m.
All we really know is that the streets close down in the center of town about 5 p.m. and Santa arrives at Woodstock’s Village Green somehow, around 5:30 p.m.